JuiceAbility, the product that safeguards the universal right to mobility

An Enel X solution that enables electric wheelchairs to recharge their batteries at EV charging columns has won the “Premio dei Premi” 2020 National Award for Innovation. Lorenzo Rambaldi explains how the project came about and how it will develop

Published on 11 December 2020

JuiceAbility, the product that safeguards the universal right to mobility

Technology and innovation can often make all the difference when it comes to improving people’s lives. The most successful products are the outcome of those occasions when engineers and technicians discuss and modify a product based on requests from the people who have to use it. When technical know-how and passion intersect with people’s needs, then great things can be done. That is the case with Enel X’s JuiceAbility, which on Dec. 11 received the “Premio dei Premi” 2020 National Award for Innovation. The accolade was assigned during a remotely held ceremony that was attended by President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella, as well as by the Minister for Public Administration Fabiana Dadone, the Minister for technological Innovation and Digitalization Paola Pisano and the President of the Fondazione COTEC, Luigi Nicolais.

“Receiving the National Award for Innovation from President Mattarella is a great honor and reinforces our commitment to developing cutting-edge technological solutions that respect the principles of inclusion and diversity,” explains Francesco Venturini, CEO of Enel X. “Access to sustainable mobility is a right and a basic principle of our business strategy. With this as our starting point and, thanks to a collaboration with an Italian startup, we created JuiceAbility, a device that improves the lives and independence of people with physical disabilities.”

But how did JuiceAbility come about? “We collaborate with numerous startups,” says Lorenzo Rambaldi, Head of eMobility Innovation at Enel X, “and when we found out about the Avanchair project, it immediately piqued our interest. We then got together with its creator to develop a new tool, a universal connector to allow the use of our EV charging infrastructure to recharge the electric wheelchairs used by people with physical disabilities.”

 “The basic idea is as simple as it is ingenious. Our network of charging columns is expanding daily,” continues Rambaldi referring to the almost 12,000 public charging points already installed, a number that is set to reach 28,000 in 2022. “Why not use them for other purposes, as well as for electric cars?”

At the core of the project is the need to ensure the range and safety of Italy’s 90,000-plus users of electric wheelchairs. “Today, if battery life is not enough to cover the required journey distance, for example between home and work, then users face a serious problem. When an electric wheelchair runs out of power its user has to find a bar and ask to plug in. I don’t believe anyone turns down such a request but why should someone’s ability to move around always have to depend on the kindness of others? We came to the realization that electric wheelchairs must also be able to recharge just like an electric car. it’s a question of practicality and safety, as well as one of independence and fairness.”

Designing a product that is compatible with various models of chair and simple to use for people with disabilities is not as straightforward as one might think, if we look at the shape and the working of JuiceAbility today.

“When we embraced the project, we began work with a development team and created a prototype in just a few days. Essentially, it was a box that we had fitted with all of the necessary technical elements. It worked well enough but when we showed it to a potential user, he congratulated us and then asked, “Now where do I put it?” It was much too big. We were aware of that, but it was important to begin from that feedback in order to underscore the importance of working together with the clients to build the best possible product. We then worked on miniaturizing the device, reducing its weight and fixing it onto one of the two armrests. We also began to collaborate with ANGLAT, the association that represents the rights of people with disabilities in the mobility and transport sectors. We had to perform a detailed ergonomic study, gathering information and discussing it at length, but the results have rewarded our efforts.”

Presented at the beginning of 2020 at CES 2020, the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, the world’s most important electronics fair, today JuiceAbility allows electric wheelchairs to recharge their batteries directly at one of 12,000 EV charging points spread around the country. The cost of this simple and practical solution, which is able to ensure the movement of electric wheelchairs independently and safely, is extremely low.

And for the future, more news is on the way. “We are now focusing on expanding our commercial channels in Italy, and then selling the product abroad, initially in Spain, one of the countries in which we are doing the most work on setting up charging infrastructure,” continues Rambaldi. “The most important innovations concern the product itself. Indeed, the next step is to integrate it directly inside the electric wheelchair to reduce the space it takes up, and in future to think about replacing the batteries with lithium-ion versions that enable even faster recharging.”

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